At Cook Up we provide a cooking space for people who do not have access to one. This includes people currently experiencing homelessness, staying in night shelters or in other forms of temporary accommodation. We also welcome people seeking asylum being housed in temporary accommodation, often hotel rooms. This accommodation is provided because they are unable to work and would otherwise be destitute while they are waiting for their application to be accepted.
People who have been granted refugee status are supposed to be given 28 days’ notice to leave the accommodation provided by the Home Office while they were still claiming asylum. In the space of 28 days, they must apply for Universal Credit, look for employment and find alternative housing. Councils are being overwhelmed with the number of people approaching them to make homelessness applications. Migrants’ rights organisations and law centres are doing everything they can to support people in trying circumstances.
Two families from Cook Up told us they were given 10 days or less to leave their accommodation.
We have had three families from Cook Up approach us asking for support on this issue which we are unable to provide. All we can do is signpost them to organisations that are already very busy and encourage them to keep trying until they get through to someone who can advise them.
One of those families, who have fled war in the Middle East, have two children attending school, their son was planning to take exams for his GCSEs this year. Their main worry at first was how this would affect his studies; he is a very bright young person with plans for his future who has spent most of his schooling in the UK living in a hotel room. After they were evicted, they were initially moved to temporary accommodation in a different borough in London, over an hour and a half from their children’s school. They are now in temporary accommodation slightly closer. They are among the lucky few to be getting support due to their children’s needs.
The other family, a mother with a grown-up daughter, has been less fortunate. The mother had initially approached us because her husband had health issues which were being made worse by the food being provided in their asylum accommodation. The husband’s health issues were not considered serious enough for them to be considered priority need for homelessness support from their local council, which means they are not entitled to much support. They are scared and their future is uncertain. Someone who was so full of joy and optimism when she visited our kitchen, though their time in asylum accommodation was far from easy, is now forced to hold back tears, though it wouldn’t stop her baking a traditional cake from her home country to share with her family.
We do not share this to garner sympathy, we have spent many hours in the kitchen with them and we know how resilient they are. However, as a team, we have struggled seeing the impact this has had on them. This is a moment they have been looking forward to for a very long time, to not be stuck waiting in temporary accommodation for a decision and to be able to begin building a new life in safety. But because they have been unable to work and because they had to leave everything behind, they have few resources to build a new life and certainly cannot be expected to do so within 28 days, let alone 10. They now find themselves in another form of temporary accommodation, or otherwise homeless, and facing another form of uncertainty.
Many people are struggling with living costs and housing uncertainty at the moment, there are already nearly 138,930 children in homeless accommodation in England as of June 2023. This is not an issue that only affects asylum seekers but it does seem more harsh only because they hoped to find safety and security after fleeing violence but instead face homelessness and precarious futures.
For those of us who work with people experiencing homelessness and seeking refuge from war and conflict, it is hard to know where to begin and how to help.
We want a world where people fleeing suffering can find safety, not another kind of suffering. We want a world where people seeking asylum can be housed within communities where they can build networks of support, not isolated in hotels run by companies who profit from their misery. We want a world where everyone has access to genuinely affordable housing when they need it, so they don’t end up homeless in the first place. We want an end to war and violence which forces people from their homes, leaving behind everything and making them dependent on the benevolence of others.
It is food that has brought us together in our Cook Up community but there is so much more that goes into a meal shared with others than we can begin to describe. We only wish for a world where they could have chosen to share such meals freely, rather than having them as the only reminder of the homes they left behind.